What we talk about when we talk about pilots

Piia Markkanen, architect

From the very beginning, we wanted to do research in real work environments. Last year, in 2017, we built two pilots in local startup companies. For us, a pilot means multiple things: it is a research method, a research tool and an experiment.

Researchers have a habit of categorizing their research: our research is research-by-design. It is qualitative and explorative. We aim to understand how people experience their environment and which elements of work environment support our research participants’ daily activities. We also aim to find new ways to study work environments.

Our research set-up consists of four different phases: analysis, design, pilot intervention and evaluation. Before designing the pilots, we interviewed participants of the study to understand how they work in their offices. In the design phase, we combined the knowledge gained from the interviews with the existing research knowledge of work environments. The design solutions were also inspired by the values of employees and companies. The design process of pilot interventions itself was also a method of research.

The range where researchers and scientists operate reaches from theories to practice and everything around us and inside us. In this research project we did not bring our research participants into laboratory settings, we built our laboratory around them. Because our participants worked in their offices during the daytime, we built the pilots during the evenings and weekends. The pilot interventions were temporary. While the pilot was set up at the offices, we used another set of research methods to understand how that participants used and experienced the new work environment around them. The pilot set up was a tool that enabled us to research the effect of different elements in work environment through the experiences of participants.

It is very typical for different research projects to focus on very specific issues or details. On the other hand, research can be all-embracing. Here, we wanted to understand how all the surrounding elements affect the environment. In our pilots, we aimed to improve the workstation layout and to create different spaces in the office. We also studied acoustic comfort, intelligent and dynamic lighting, and different elements that affected the sense of privacy in the office. The two startup-offices were our test tubes to create an experiment: only the contents consisted of different kinds of tables, chairs, storage furniture, drawing boards, curtains, carpets, luminaires and their control units, acoustic elements, smart phones, tracking devices, even a tree.

In the very core of our research is the question how teamwork and concentration intensive work can exist in a shared space. Both of them are needed for creation of ideas and developing them into successful innovations. At the moment, we are in the process of analyzing our data from the both pilot interventions. As a sneak peak into our results, in both pilot sites, the improved acoustics and the lighting were experienced as positive elements. In the mean time, our space AG:46 in Stockholm Design and Furniture Fair 2018 serves as an installation representing both of our pilots!